- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2002

Beijing The flamboyant director of the China National Symphony Orchestra has been placed under house arrest on the orders of Communist Party cultural commissars who say his efforts to revitalize classical music are biased in favor of "Western compositions."
In eight years at the helm of Beijing's premier concert hall, Qian Cheng, 40, attracted a new generation of music lovers by demanding adventurous interpretations and vibrant performances from the National Symphony Orchestra.
However, his determination to showcase European works, at the expense of Chinese classical pieces, led to a rift with Yu Songlin, the orchestra's chairman and a veteran of the cultural bureaucracy.
"It was a systematic project to popularize classical music," said Mr. Qian's deputy, Xu Jian. "He didn't believe that classical music should be used to support the state but thought it should stand by itself by cultivating new audiences."
Mr. Qian's tenure as general manager of Beijing Concert Hall located close to Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party headquarters ended abruptly in April. He was put under 24-hour guard by the Ministry of Public Security, which began an investigation into his management of the venue's finances.
Insiders say the charges of impropriety are a smoke screen and that his real crime was to cross Mr. Yu and his shadowy patrons in the Ministry of Culture.
Word of the dispute, which has split China's music establishment, leaked out only last week. Party officials have sought to impose a news blackout.
"This is something we've been told not to talk about," said the conductor of one orchestra. "There's been one report in the papers, and the editor responsible was severely criticized for showing sympathy with Qian. The investigation is being controlled from the highest levels."
The first sign of a schism came when Mr. Yu forced Mr. Qian's close collaborator, Tang Muhai a protege of Herbert von Karajan, the former maestro of the Berlin Philharmonic to quit as symphony orchestra conductor last year.
Mr. Tang had wanted the orchestra to tour less, practice more and concentrate on symphonies by composers such as Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler.
The approach adopted by Mr. Tang and Mr. Qian was rejected by Mr. Yu, a master of the Chinese stringed instrument the pipa and who demanded that the orchestra meet a hectic touring schedule across China, performing Western and Chinese works.
Traditional tours by the orchestra amount to little more than an opportunity for the ruling party to exercise patronage. Tickets are distributed free to senior bureaucrats and state employees, who display little musical taste, especially in the provinces.
In stark contrast, the weekly performances organized by Mr. Qian at the concert hall in Beijing and a twin venue in a nearby park, attracted hundreds of music lovers who bought their own tickets. The state-sponsored ensemble was caught between the rival pressures of pleasing the public and performing for officialdom.
As turmoil has swept through its management; dozens of its youngest and most talented musicians have quit for its upstart rival, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, a 2-year-old outfit backed by China Central Television that calls itself Asia's largest ensemble.

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